Concerning everything Russians want to know about their president’s worldview, once a year, Vladimir Putin accepts their questions, sent through a triage centre, and broadcasts answers live in front of a handpicked television studio audience in Moscow.
On western sanctions over Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict, Putin appeared proud and isolated.
“I have told business leaders not to expect a lifting of the sanctions, because they are purely political. They are a strategic tool to force Russia to cooperate. Some countries want to contain our development. And, by the way, I believe this is not directly related to the events in Ukraine any more.”
Putin played down 11.4% inflation, rising unemployment — to 5.8% and a fall in investment by 2.5%, adding that the birth rate was up, death rate down, and life expectancy longer.
He talked tough on Russia’s counter-sanction banning EU agricultural produce.
“We don’t have to endure the sanctions, we have to use the circumstances surrounding the sanctions to develop. For example, we might not have replaced imports with local produce if there had not been sanctions, but now we must, and I hope this will lead high-tech industries to develop as well. But it does push up inflation on food products. That is true, and we’ll have to put up with it for some time.”
On a foreign policy note, Putin justified resumed dialogue with Tehran over selling them anti-aircraft missiles. Those dealings were interrupted in 2010, when relations between Russia and the West were cordial.
“The delivery of [weapon] systems to Iran is not included in the list of UN sanctions. We suspended delivery unilaterally, and now that there is progress with Iran over its nuclear programme we have no reason to keep things on hold, unilaterally, once again.”
A coordinator said Russians had sent Putin some 2.5 million questions.
The Kremlin spokesman said: “This [13th annual direct line phone-in] is the way for us to understand what is really going on in the country.”